Hick-hop and other new forms of country.

Songs you've got to hear.
June 3 2005 11:53 AM


And other variations on good ol' country music.

Country music gets a bad rap for narrow-mindedness—partially unfair, but sometimes deserved. Here are five albums that expand the genre's palette. Don't confuse them for alt-country—which had a strong run in the late '80s and early '90s and gave rise to worthy bands like Wilco. Rather, these albums constitute a sort of alternate country—or, more accurately, countries—where style takes a backseat to heritage.

CD cover. Click on image to expand.

Los Super Seven Heard It on the X (Telarc) Click here to listen to "Cupido."


"We need more ethnicity in country music," noted one awkward Nashville Star judge to a Mexican-American contestant a couple of years back. But it's been there all along, especially along the Texas border, where pirate radio stations from the '30s onward broadcast a sonic hodgepodge that American airwaves shied away from. (Wolfman Jack made his name as a host on border radio.) The third album from this Latin-American supergroup expresses the idea that rock—and, by extension, country—flourished without borders, geographical or otherwise. It's a vision of country that can accommodate the tender Tex-Mex duet "Cupido," featuring Freddy Fender and Rick Trevino, "The El Burro Song," reborn as mariachi music, with a gilded vocal from Mavericks frontman Raul Malo, and John Hiatt's boogie-rock "I'm Not That Kat (Anymore)," with a guitar tuned to the sound of a rumbling motorcycle.

CD cover. Click on image to expand.

Shooter Jennings Put the O Back in Country (Universal South) Click here   to listen to "Busted in Baylor County."

Jennings—son of Waylon and Jessi Colter—has spent years avoiding the family business by fronting a boozy Sunset Strip rock band called Stargunn and squiring a Soprano. Yet, it's not surprising, really, that his solo debut, from the lewd title joke on down, calls for a revival of the stripped-down, traditionalist Outlaw country that his father pioneered in the '70s. Jennings is playing to his strengths: He's far better at wide-mouthed rock yelping—the blues-inflected "Manifesto No. 1," or "Busted In Baylor County," a true-life tale of a minor legal tussle—than at lonely country laments. In between the jokes about weed, the whining about L.A. Scientologists, and the double-talk about "white lines," Jennings squeezes in enough shout-outs to George Jones (the perennial Nashville chart-topper) to soothe traditional ears. Even so, he still finds time to gripe, on "Solid Country Gold," how Music Row loyalists just "can't see the country for all the goddamned trees."

CD cover. Click on image to expand.

Shelby Lynne Suit Yourself (Capitol) Click here to listen to "I Cry Everyday."

This is a return to Nashville, of sorts, for the onetime Music Row factory singer who fled a decade ago for the relatively cooler confines of first the California desert and later noncommercial AAA radio. Suit Yourself is a compromise between the old and new Shelby Lynnes—it was initially recorded at her Palm Springs home, and later polished, relatively speaking, with a band of Music City vets. They mostly stay clear of her ample, anguished vocals (as if to emphasize her independence, Lynne sometimes shouts directions midsong, as on "I Cry Everyday"). Sonically, the album is small and stark, a collection of roots-influenced pop delivered with seaside breeze—songs like "Old Times Sake" tread the middle ground between Loretta Lynn and early Carly Simon. Strangely, while this is exactly the sort of music that gets Norah Jones played on CMT (the MTV of country), it has made Lynne, who has a far superior voice (see "When Johnny Met June," a touching teardrop about the death of Johnny Cash) all but a country music pariah.

CD cover. Click on image to expand.

Cowboy Troy Loco Motive (Warner Bros. Nashville) Click here to listen to "Crick in My Neck."

Nelly and Tim McGraw bridged the hip-hop/country divide last year with their Billboard-topping single "Over and Over," and they made it work by leaving their respective genre loyalties on the cutting-room floor. The black rapper Cowboy Troy, backed by Nashville wunderkinds Big & Rich, wants to test the proposition that country is a subject, not a style—a good idea, because, unlike the pioneering hick-hopper Bubba Sparxxx, the humbly skilled Cowboy Troy wouldn't last five minutes on rap radio. Instead, he patrols conventional country turf—looking at comely women ("Crick in My Neck"), coming up light in the pocket ("Ain't Broke Yet"), and the light of the Lord ("Somebody's Smilin' On Me"). Risky? Not really, but perhaps a fitting rebuke to Nashville's poor track record on integration. Maybe he'll even spur a Charley Pride comeback.

CD cover. Click on image to expand.

Larry the Cable Guy The Right To Bare Arms (Warner Bros. Nashville) Click here to listen to "WWJD."



More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Why Do Some People See the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese?

The science that explains the human need to find meaning in coincidences.


Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

What to Do if You Literally Get a Bug in Your Ear

  News & Politics
Sept. 16 2014 7:03 PM Kansas Secretary of State Loses Battle to Protect Senator From Tough Race
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 8:43 PM This 17-Minute Tribute to David Fincher Is the Perfect Preparation for Gone Girl
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 6:40 PM This iPhone 6 Feature Will Change Weather Forecasting
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 17 2014 7:30 AM Ring Around the Rainbow
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.